Baptist Press will publish interviews with each of the four announced candidates for SBC president. The Illinois Baptist newspaper will excerpt the interviews as they are released and will also publish the excerpts here. Messengers will elect the next president of the SBC at the denomination’s annual meeting June 15-16 in Nashville.
Vancouver, Wash. | Randy Adams planned to run for president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2020, before the annual meeting was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He resumed his candidacy ahead of the 2021 meeting, scheduled for June 15-16 in Nashville.
Adams, who has served as executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention since 2013, previously led the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s church outreach team and also pastored churches in Oklahoma and Texas. Along with five other non-South state executives, he has been involved in a disagreement with the North American Mission Board over strategic partnerships with their state conventions. He spoke recently with Baptist Press about what he views as the biggest issues facing the SBC.
Building trust in the SBC
I think probably the foundational issue is trust, a lack of trust. And trust and goodwill really undergird cooperation, everything that we attempt to do together, partnership. And where there is little or no trust, you just can’t work together. A lot of people talk about unity. Trust is before unity.
Adapting to challenges
When the GCR happened [Great Commission Resurgence, adopted by messengers to the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting]—which I’ve called the worst decision in decades of Southern Baptist life, absolutely—it led to the worst decade in our history in terms of decline….I mean we’ve never seen what we’ve seen now, in 175 years, in terms of decline. It’s not completely the GCR, but it’s largely that because it changed the way we work.
In the Northwest and in much of the South it meant the elimination of joint funding for all these associational directors of missions….So you’re talking large areas of small churches geographically distant from each other, and in most places they can’t afford a full-time director of missions or even a part-time guy in some places. It used to be that even in Montana where I grew up and in the Northwest, Idaho, all of the West, virtually every church, not just the pastor but the lay leaders, they knew someone that represented the denomination. That was usually the associational leader. It could be a state convention person. But they knew someone. So when they had pastoral transitions they had someone to call. If they had an issue they had someone to call.
We’ve lost that in large measure, especially when you consider a lot of our churches are small, they have bivocational pastors. It’s really hard for them to go to annual meetings and do some of the training stuff that we do. So personnel-wise, we are greatly diminished from where we were 10 years ago, and that affects the field more than people know in the South, where you have stronger associations and whatnot.
Running for SBC President
Really it’s the mission. That’s what motivated me most to do this, is I feel a great burden for the fact that our mission effectiveness has declined. We’ve got almost 2,000 fewer international missionaries than we did a decade ago. We’ve got baptism rates in the level that we were in the Great Depression. So much has I think gotten off course in the last decade. But I think it’s not inevitable that we continue down a path of decline.
I think we can, if we do the right things, write a beautiful chapter in the next chapter of our history, and I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of that because of what Jesus has done for me and what Southern Baptists mean to me and what they’ve done for me.
In the lengthy interview, Adams also addressed:
- being Southern Baptist outside the South
- strategic roles of local associations and state conventions
- the potential of remote participation in the SBC annual meeting
Mobile, Ala. | Ed Litton is one of four announced candidates for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Currently in his 27th year as pastor of Redemption Church in metro Mobile, he is also a former first vice president of the SBC. In recent years, his ministry has included a renewed focus on racial reconciliation in his city. Litton spoke with Baptist Press recently about what he views as the major issues facing the SBC:
Our biggest challenge
I think the biggest issue is unity. Obviously for a convention of churches that has so much variety, our unity is in the gospel. It’s in the Great Commission. I think one of the things that really has moved me in this direction, to let my name be nominated, is because I see there’s a part of the Great Commission that we seem to have forgotten about. And the way I put it is, the gospel is the heart of our unity—and the love of Jesus is the heart of the gospel. The Great Commandment has been, I think, lost to some, or seemingly lost to some. We’ve lost sight of what Jesus told us would drive the Great Commission, and that’s to love one another. Love God first, love each other. By this will they know you’re my disciples.
Obstacles to unity
One of my favorite statements ever made at a Southern Baptist Convention [annual meeting] that I’ve attended was from Dr. E.V. Hill. He said, ‘I love Southern Baptists for who they think they are.’ And I think aspirationally, we know that that’s what our unity is centered around. Practically, the spirit of the age kind of invades the way we talk to each other, the way we belittle, attack, criticize, rumor, innuendo. That’s a political model and it doesn’t serve the kingdom.
Successes and needs
Our disaster relief is something we should all be proud of. Our international missions, we all are excited or need to be excited and focused on that, reaching the nations. And none of these are without struggles, but I think our church planting efforts are focused in the right direction as far as reaching unreached cities. So I would say those things I’m very excited about….I know the numbers of young men going into the role of pastor is declining, and we need to address that. I don’t think the seminaries can change that. I think the local church has to address that issue. And we need to invest in young people, call our people out to ministry, call our people out to service for the Lord.
Serving as President
I wasn’t looking for this. I’m old school when it comes to this. Adrian Rogers said, ‘The man doesn’t seek the office, the office seeks the man.’ And some people came to us and said, ‘We want you to pray about this.’ And we took it seriously and prayed about it, and God birthed a vision, both myself and Kathy, that there’s a time and a place for everything.
I don’t have infinite wisdom. I have access to His (wisdom) but not mine. I’m a pastor. I think this role is a unique role for a pastor to lead pastors and churches. I think God has given me gifts of leadership, but I don’t possess everything necessary. But I do believe that God has enabled me to pull people together and to focus on a vision that glorifies the Lord and will make us a better ‘E pluribus unum’ for the Gospel.
In the lengthy interview, Litton also addressed:
- racial reconciliation and the SBC
- his church’s involvement in church planting
- the SBC President’s role in leading toward unity
Blackshear, Ga. | Mike Stone, who pastors Emmanuel Baptist Church in rural south Georgia, is on the steering council of the Conservative Baptist Network and the immediate past chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. But he described himself as a “relational outsider” in SBC life in a February interview with Baptist Press. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
The Cooperative Program
I’m very enthusiastic and excited about a renewed emphasis on the Cooperative Program. Totally supportive of Dr. [Ronnie] Floyd’s Vision 2025. It is one of the things that first intrigued me when I was becoming a Southern Baptist, during my freshman year in college, the idea that Southern Baptists would partner together—and I don’t have to explain the Cooperative Program to you guys, but as I began to understand what that was, I could not figure why other churches did not want to be a part of it, especially if they were Southern Baptist. So I think the CP and the missions emphasis is what made me a Southern Baptist. Doctrine and missions emphasis is what made me become a Southern Baptist in the first place. So I’m very excited about that renewed emphasis. I’m very excited about that.
SBC mission and vision
I would like to see us focus almost singularly, during the time that I would have the microphone, on reaching the world with the gospel. By that I mean, there are other things the Southern Baptist Convention has to address. Just the necessity of our own internal work, cultural issues that necessitate a word from Southern Baptists. But when we come together, particularly for our annual meeting, I would love to see the program itself championing evangelism and missions.
One of the things that I have begun to share is that as president, if elected, I would like to call the convention to a wave revival. It’s an old-fashioned method but it has worked every time we’ve used it. By that I mean, pick an eight-week period, for example, and work together with the North American Mission Board and all the other entities and resources of the SBC and challenge churches across the convention to host evangelistic events and evangelistic emphases, thematic and be providing resources, logos, all the different resources.
Diversity and fostering cooperation
I believe that some of the conversations that we have that focus on some of our differences and unduly focus on ethnic diversity actually lead us to greater ethnic tension, not greater ethnic reconciliation. And I recognize that there are people who fundamentally disagree with the position I just stated. One of the things that I would hope to foster is the understanding that we have the same goal. We really do have the same goal. And the reason I may disagree with your method or your approach of getting there is because I don’t think that that method works, but I’m in agreement with the goal. When I served as [Executive Committee] chairman and president in Georgia, I looked very intentionally and strategically for like-minded people that were non-Anglos to serve in key positions, with different appointment powers that you would have, and then giving instructions to our nominating committee. Not at the expense of doctrinal position. But we need to be more diverse, not just so that we can put on an appearance but we need greater diversity ethnically because that’s the population God has given us to reach.
In the interview, Stone also addressed:
• changing the tone of SBC rhetoric
• championing evangelism and the Cooperative Program
• cooperating with different groups in Baptist life
Albert Mohler Jr.
Louisville, Ky. | R. Albert Mohler Jr. was to be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2020, but the annual meeting was canceled due to COVID-19. Mohler will accept the nomination again in 2021, he has announced, and recently spoke with Baptist Press about a range of issues, including unity in the SBC, a generational shift in leadership, and whether the denomination is experiencing theological liberal drift. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
Differences in the SBC
The Southern Baptist Convention is a convention of churches dedicated to the fulfillment of the mission of reaching the world for Christ, and establishing healthy churches across the United States, and training ministers for the next generation in equipping our churches for that work. And the SBC is not intended, it was never intended, to be the primary arena for determining what every single Southern Baptist church would believe about every single issue.
There’s a theological consensus that is necessary for our cooperation, and where that’s endangered it needs to be strengthened. But the SBC is a confessional denomination. And where we stand together is what we articulate in The Baptist Faith and Message and what we express together, and then we respect one another and join in fellowship with one another and eagerly try to reach the world for Jesus together.
Passing the leadership torch
We have an army of young pastors, which almost no other denomination has. We need to celebrate that fact. We need to understand they wouldn’t be here if there hadn’t been a Conservative Resurgence, they wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have healthy churches, they wouldn’t be here if we weren’t driven by the Great Commission. But now they are here, and it’s our responsibility to pass the torch and to celebrate the fact that we actually have convictional young pastors coming along who will be taking the reins of our churches in this denomination. And that sets us in radical contrast to the mainline Protestant denominations.
But that generational shift—we don’t make a decision on whether a generational shift happens, it happens. But we do make a decision about whether it happens graciously and healthily, faithfully. We’ve got some big decisions to make there. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
Supposed ‘liberal drift’
The idea of a liberal drift is frankly so irresponsible it’s very hard to take that seriously. You have six institutions that stand without hesitation for the inerrancy of Scripture, for the exclusivity of the gospel, for the totality of biblical truth. And not only do so officially and confessionally, but so naturally that these are not even issues of controversy on our campuses, and that’s the way it should be. And the generation that fought for and won the Conservative Resurgence should look at the seminaries, and the fact that these young pastors who are coming are thoroughly committed to these truths, and will be even more deeply grounded in these truths during the time they’re on our campuses.
Look, there are legitimate issues. I share the concern of even a group like the Conservative Baptist Network, I share their concern that we are in danger of losing a theological inheritance. But I do not agree, and Southern Baptists have shown they don’t agree, (or) that they suspect they have denominational leadership trying to move them in that direction, nor do they have institutions that are rebelling against that.
In the lengthy interview, Mohler also addressed:
• Critical Race Theory and the SBC’s stance
• the influence of social media on denominational unity and decisions
• creating a pipeline for new leaders